COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s streak of signing a recruit from Michigan is set to continue in the most unlikely of places.
Ann Arbor (Mich.) Pioneer four -star outside linebacker Antjuan Simmons goes to school across the street from Michigan Stadium — literally.
For those who didn't know how close my school is to the big house pic.twitter.com/nFRdG9wg1F
— Antjuan Simmons (@_antjuan_) March 7, 2016
Simmons will play there in college, but it won’t be for the Wolverines. The class of 2017 prospect committed to Ohio State on March 1 in a move that took many by surprise.
Pioneer coach Jari Brown explained why Simmons ended up with the Buckeyes and discussed much more in a Q & A.
Q. What traits are Antjuan’s best assets?
Brown: “I think his preparation sets him apart. He works extremely hard, and I think over the years that’s helped make him into the player he is. He came in with some talent and ability, but I think his work ethic made him that much more of a better player. He’s a student of the game who loves to break down film, and he has an understanding of not only what he’s supposed to do, but also what everyone around him is supposed to do.”
Q: In what ways has he improved during his high school career?
Brown: “I think the biggest improvement he’s made, especially from his sophomore to junior year as people really started paying attention to him, is that he was a lot more explosive. Whether he was running the football or playing linebacker, he’s a guy who’s not afraid to take a shot. He reads and diagnoses things very fast, and that allows him to just go make plays. His junior year, he was faster to the ball.
“Now, he’s also a student of the game. He’s always asking questions. Our offensive coordinator was just talking about a play that Antjuan mentioned to him, and it made total sense to the coaching staff because Antjuan pays attention and knows what’s going on. It’s something that he thought of on his own and we’re putting it in the game plan for this week.”
Q: Which of his accomplishments stands out the most to you?
Brown: “Last year, he made all-state on both sides of the ball. Most guys are good at one position, but he’s special at two. He was all-conference on both sides of the ball and all-state on both sides of the ball, and for him to be able to do that, I think that’s pretty special.”
Q: How was he able to be so successful at both positions?
Brown: “After his sophomore year, people saw some really good things on film. He trained real hard and worked on becoming more explosive, and I think it was very clear that at the next level he was going to be a linebacker. But I think what makes him a good tailback is that he attacks the running back position like a linebacker. He sees the hole well, hits it, attacks and brings everything to the defense. On both sides of the ball, he does a great job of understanding everything around him and that slows down everything for him. As a linebacker, he diagnoses things and hits the hole, and from a running back standpoint, he does the same thing. He’s fast, but he uses it very wisely and reads the situation before deciding what to do.
Q: When did you realize he had the potential to become an elite player?
Brown: “To be honest with you, when I first met him when he was getting ready to start ninth grade, there was something about him. It was just one of those things where we knew he was going to be a great player his freshman year. We brought him up the third game of the year and he was our premier running back. We were lacking depth and really needed a running back. That year wasn’t extraordinary or crazy, but we just knew he was going to be something special. We told him to believe in the process and work on everything we’re teaching him and it’s going to be fine.
“After his sophomore year, we knew he was special but nobody really jumped on it. After sophomore year he went to a bunch of camps and did some good things. He went to Ohio State and Michigan and did well at the camps, but a lot of people said he needed to be more explosive and so he went out and did what everyone asked of him. He got some early MAC offers, but we knew he was going to play at a higher level. Once he took that advice, about three or four games into his junior season, Notre Dame came in and everything else has gone from there.”
Q: Were you surprised he committed to Ohio State despite being from Ann Arbor? What sold him on Ohio State?
Brown: “Antjuan was never really tied to one school. He was wide open when the recruiting process started. I don’t think he had a clear favorite going into it. He’s a big relationship person and wanted to feel like he was part of a family and that the guys recruiting him cared about him. Coach (Kerry) Coombs did a great job of recruiting him, and the Ohio State staff did a great job of building a relationship not only with him but with his mom. His mom is a major influence in his life, and they got to know her. At the end of the day, he’s going to go wherever he wants to go, but he wants to make his mom happy at the same time. Ohio State took the time to come from Columbus for the all-state banquet just to say hi and see him, and I think that meant a lot to him.
“One of the other things people didn’t really think about was the recruiting class he was going to be with. He went to a couple places where he liked the school but didn’t feel comfortable with the guys he would be playing with and what they stood for. He felt really comfortable at Ohio State and felt like it was home, and that’s why he made the decision. Originally, he told me he was going to make the decision at the last home game, but he was ready and the time was right.”
Q: How would you describe his personality?
Brown: “He’s one of those rare kids you get a chance to coach. In my 13 years of coaching high school football, I’ve coached some great kids with great attitudes but to be as well-rounded as Antjuan. … I talked to one of his teachers at school today and he’s in a peer mediation group. He’s a great kid and has a smile that lights up a room. Everything about him is genuine. He works with special-ed kids and isn’t afraid to help anyone out and is always trying to coach up guys on the team and make everyone better.
“When he’s on the field, he’s just another coach. You have a lot of trust in him because he understands what’s going on. I’ve never been around a kid like him who has the athletic ability, the positive attitude and isn’t egotistical, he’s just a great kid. He’s a leader on and off the field.”
Q: What type of impact do you think he’ll have at the college level?
Brown: “That’s always tough to determine, but he knows what he’s getting himself into. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what a guy will do at the next level because they’ve been great their whole life. He knows he’s going to have to work even harder at Ohio State to make a name for himself and won’t be able to live off what he did in high school. He’s mature enough to know that. As long as he goes in with the same attitude he had when he started our program as a freshman and starts over and works hard, he’s going to be just fine. He’s going to work hard on the field and in the classroom, and those things on top of his talent are going to help him be a great football player. I’m just looking forward to seeing his growth over the next four or five years at Ohio State.”